The Beginning of any story has important work to do. It must hook
your reader into wanting to read on. If you fail to do that, you might as well scrub the story and move on to the next one.
The Beginning is so important that many writers don’t even write it until after the rest of the story is done. That way, they know they will write the best set up possible. So, if you just aren’t sure if the start is strong enough, do it later. Some authors even use the final chapter as the start.
What is Beginning?
Beginning is where you introduce your characters, the setting, the POV, the tone and, vitally, the conflict. If this is done with a number of pages telling the reader all about it, delete and start again. The way to do it is to have something that does all of the above actually happening: in other words ‘All Aboard. The Story Train is now departing.’
Not every story can or should start with a breakdown on the railway tracks with the express train bearing down, obviously. The thing happening might be as ‘simple’ as losing your car key, or realising you can no longer bear the way your partner drinks her coffee, or that you’ve turned up at work wearing the same clothes as yesterday. What matters is that a scenario is unfolding and doing so with enough interest to make the reader wonder why it is happening and what the protagonist is going to do about it.
Before the Middle, there is the lead up to the Middle. This is where you have plot points, i.e. changes in direction, added conflict brought in, new characters vital to the outcome of the story, red herrings, sign posting, etc. This is what deepens and develops the story, laying the tracks in front of the story-train or adding additional carriages.
The Middle is where an important part of the story comes to a head, where a train carriage gets derailed, or the train gets detoured down an important but necessary sideline before coming back onto the main track. Depending on the genre of your story, and the pace required, this might double the conflict and the consequences, or it might give your protagonist something they need to resolve the main conflict.
Between the Middle and the End is where the story ‘heats up’, possibly with an either/or for how the resolution will come about. In other words, the train starts its downhill journey towards the final station.
The End is the resolution. It is where your protagonist brings the conflict to its final conclusion, even if that means they accept no change to what was the conflict of the story in the first place. The important thing is that there is a logical development to that conclusion whether it is a fast-paced thriller or an internal struggle. Even if you want them to accept their situation, literally ‘give up’ the struggle, you need to have that happen believably.
Those two wonderful words: The End? Sometimes, but not usually. Following the Ending, or perhaps better seen as part of the Ending, is the Denouement. That’s where the loose ends are tied up, perhaps obvious signposts and red herrings are exposed – this isn’t always necessary – and the protagonist is shown to move on. The Denouement can take a few paragraphs or even another chapter. It depends on the story, the genre, and how the conflict is resolved.